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By Staff | Oct 13, 2012

Back in the early days of economic development the 1950s and 1960s our official state motto was “North Dakota Land of Opportunity.” We thought it was great, but it wasn’t true.

It may have been true during the settlement period when thousands of immigrants came seeking a new life. Some came to North Dakota, attracted by the cheap land. When all of the land was taken, opportunity was gone. By the 1950s and 1960s, when we called North Dakota the “land of opportunity”, we were just whistling in the dark.

During my undergraduate years at the University of North Dakota in the ’50s, I vowed that I would leave the state as soon as I received my degree. Many other young people felt the same way and did leave.

While in graduate school, however, I realized that even though North Dakota was not great for economic opportunities it was a good place for other kinds of opportunities. Anyone who wanted to be someone could be someone in our small state. So I stayed and finally saw North Dakota become a land of opportunity.

We didn’t do it so much as the geological engineers who conquered the art of fracking and found so much oil in the Bakken formation that oil will provide 20 to 30 years of ongoing prosperity.

The Bakken field is so huge that our present adjustment problems in western North Dakota have just begun. While transformation is occurring with great pain, the development is so immense we cannot comprehend it. Experts predict 50,000 wells and 800,000 people by 2020. Others predict even more.

Bakken has provided hundreds of new opportunities. Entrepreneurs of all ages, some in eastern North Dakota, are making their stakes by offering services and goods to facilitate expansion of the industry and the population.

But these opportunities are good only when seized by the imaginative and courageous.

The money generated by the oil industry for the state treasury can furnish opportunities for putting decades of dreaming into reality. But the state needs to break out of its traditional incremental thinking to take advantage of its new potential.

Cities and counties throughout the oil patch have front row seats for capturing the opportunities and taking hold of their futures. Even local governments in the eastern part of the state are exploring roles in the oil patch. As an example, Grand Forks has appropriated $75,000 to launch a “Bakken Initiative” with the hope of capturing some of the prosperity in the west.

With opportunity knocking on doors everywhere, it came as a surprise to hear that Burleigh County withdrew its financial support from the Bismarck-Mandan Development Association. What an untimely decision for a community on the frontier of oil development!

The Association is well-equipped to tackle the immense opportunities brought by the oil industry, having one of the most experienced economic development leaders in the state in its director, Russ Staiger.

County commissioners said they could leave the Bismarck-Mandan Association because things were going so well they could just catch the fruit as it falls. Trusting your food in the hands of others will result in them eating your lunch.

Cities and counties in and around the oil patch would be well-advised to beef up their capacities to capture the opportunities now banging on their doors. This means personnel focused on development.

At last, it’s true. North Dakota is the land of opportunity. Let’s not miss it now that it is here.

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